The Direct Ancestor to Modern Humans Just Got a New Name, And For a Good Reason

Scientists have identified a new species which may have been the direct ancestor for modern humans.
Homo bodoensis, a new species proposed by scientists who lived in Africa more than half a century ago, may help us understand how human lineages interacted across the globe.

Modern humans, Homo sapiens are the only human species that has survived, but other human species have been found on Earth. Scientists recently discovered that the Indonesian island Flores once belonged to the extinct Homo floresiensis species, also known as the "hobbit" due to its tiny body.

It is not always easy to decide whether an ancient set of fossils from human beings belongs to one or the other species. This topic is often heatedly debated. Some researchers believe that the skeletal differences found between Neanderthals and modern humans indicate they were two different species.

Other scientists disagree and argue that Neanderthals shouldn't be considered one species because of the abundance of genetic evidence showing that Neanderthals and modern humans interbreeded and produced fertile offspring.

Similar: 10 Things We Learned About Our Human Ancestors in 2020

Researchers analyzed fossils of human beings that date back to approximately 774,000 years ago. This was previously known as the Middle Pleistocene, but it has been renamed the Chibanian.

Research has suggested that modern humans emerged in Africa during this period, while Neanderthals developed in Eurasia. But, paleoanthropologists still don't know much about this crucial chapter of human evolution. This is what they call the "muddle in between".

Many of the Chibanian-era human remains from Africa and Eurasia can be assigned to either Homo heterodesiensis or Homo sheidelbergensis. Both species had multiple definitions, sometimes contradictory, of their skeletal characteristics and other traits.

Recent DNA evidence shows that fossils called H. heidelbergensis in Europe are actually Neanderthals. Scientists noted that H. heidelbergensis was a redundant term in these cases.

The researchers also stated that recent analysis of fossils from East Asia suggests they shouldn't be called H. heidelbergensis. Many facial features and other characteristics found in the Chibanian East Asian fossils of human beings are different from those in European or African fossils of the same era.

Chibanian fossils found in Africa from Chibanian are also sometimes called H. heidelbergensis or H. rhodesiensis. H. rhodesiensis, according to scientists, was a poorly-defined label that was not widely accepted in science due to its association with Cecil Rhodes, an controversial English imperialist.

The researchers propose H. bodoensis as a new species to help with this confusion. It is named after a 600,000.year-old skull that was found in Bodo D'ar in Ethiopia in 1976.

This new name would include many fossils that were previously designated as H. heidelbergensis and H. rhodesiensis.

Researchers suggest that H. bodoensis is the direct ancestor to H. sapiens. They formed a separate branch of the human family tree from the one that gave birth to the Neanderthals.

Mirjana Roksandic (a co-lead author of the study) said that giving a new name for a species is always controversial. She is a paleoanthropologist at University of Winnipeg, Canada. It will live and survive if people use it.

H. bodoensis, a new classification, will describe all Chibanian human remains from Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean. Many European Chibanian human remains from Europe would be reclassified to Neanderthals.

H. heidelbergensis, H. rhodesiensis names would then be lost. With more research, the names of human fossils from East Asia such as the Chibanian Chibanian may be given.

Roksandic stated that "we are not claiming to be able to rewrite the history of human evolution." She explained that the researchers are trying to arrange the variation in ancient humans "in such a way as to make it possible to discuss its origins and what it represents."

"These differences can help us understand movement, interaction."

Roksandic stated that the researchers hope to find H. bodoensis specimens from Europe in the future.

The scientists presented their findings online on Thursday, Oct. 28, in Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues News and Reviews.

Similar Content:

Photos: Check out the Neanderthal's ancient faces

In photos: Bones from a Denisovan-Neanderthal hybrid

Photos: Uncovered Neanderthal burials

Live Science originally published this article. You can read the original article here.